Robert Colquhoun 1914 - 62
Robert Colquhoun (right) and Robert MacBryde (left).
Robert Colquhoun 1914 - 62
1. Robert Colquhoun 1914 -1962. Head of a Woman. Undated. Signed Colquhoun. 420 x 315mm. Watercolour on paper. Purchased from Mercury Gallery, Edinburgh, with a purchase grant from Local Museums Purchase Fund.
Provenance: Fine Art Society. Exhibited Mercury Gallery, Edinburgh Festival Exhibition 1983.
The Two Roberts: Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, 1949 Picture Post.
Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde were inseparable in life. Together they upheld the view that modern art needed to be cosmopolitan.
When they settled in London in 1941, they arrived convinced that, as Scottish artists, they had a contribution to make to European culture. Wary of indifference on the part of the English, they initially sported tartan kilts, claimed they were Scottish Nationalists and adopted an effusively Gaelic stance.
But the Nationalist vein soon disappeared, as did the kilts, and the Roberts, who never returned to live in their native country, became professional Scots in England.
Few artists have imposed themselves on their surroundings as these two did. Almost every memoir of Soho in the 1940s, its pubs and drinking clubs, mentions their glowering presence. Fearless and outspoken, they hated anything false, pretentious or sham. Such was their charisma that, for a short period, others in their circle felt that where the two Roberts were, there London was.
This watercolour was found at the Mercury Gallery in Edinburgh during the 1983 Edinburgh Festival. It was displayed in the same collection as the work by Robert MacBryde.
It was recognised that both artists had made a contribution to the development of modern art in Britain despite their careers being pursued furth of Scotland. Their unique, some might say distorted, Scottishness might not have been tolerated north of the border but it meshed with the shady life of Soho and the rumbustious nature of some cultural circles of that time.
It was natural that the two local boys would be recognised in the Maclaurin collection and we were fortunate to find this work that demonstrated, in our view, the Vorticist influence of Wyndham Lewis. In this respect, the work complemented a drawing by Lewis in the District Council's collections.
East Ayrshire Council have a substantial holding of Colquhoun's work. The Scottish Gallery organised a retrospective exhibition of their work in 2010 and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art will present an exhibition in 2014 setting their work in the context of the modern movement.
This work was identified and championed by Mike Bailey.
[Text draws on The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde. Roger Bristow. 2010. Sansom and Company, other sources in the public domain and personal recollections.]
Robert Colquhoun was born in Kilmarnock in 1914 and educated at Loanhead Primary School and Kilmarnock Academy, where he showed early promise as an artist. Colquhoun’s family received financial support from local benefactors allowing him to remain at school, despite the economic pressures of the time, then to study at Glasgow School of Art in 1933 to 1937. During those years he became a close companion of Robert MacBryde.
After a travelling scholarship to France and Italy (1937–9), he and MacBryde were introduced by Peter Watson to the Neo-Romantic circle in London.
During World War II Colquhoun joined the Civil Defence Corps but continued to paint. He worked briefly as a war artist in 1944. During those years his works showed an affinity with Sutherland and Moore. After his early works, for example Tomato Plants (c. 1942), he concentrated on the theme of the isolated figure, for example Woman with Leaping Cat (1946; London, Tate). These existential images were favourably received and compared with those of contemporaries such as Francis Bacon.
Colquhoun fell under the influence of Picasso in the post war years but he was unable to reconcile this influence with his own poetic vision. Other influences included Jankel Adler and Percy Wyndham Lewis, although his art and lifestyle can be understood best in the context of Scottish nationalism. Always in debt, his decline was delayed briefly by a retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1958. However, there was little commercial success in these years and he earned a poor living as a stage designer.
The Robert's Notting Hill studio in Bedford Gardens became a magnet for artists, poets and passing folk. Their famous Sunday evenings often began nearby, at the Windsor Castle in Campden Hill, the smallest of its three bars collecting their friends. Among those who joined the crush were Lucian Freud, John Minton and Dylan Thomas. Back in the studio, both hosts had beguiling charm, but also a capacity for blistering rudeness. Poetry readings alternated with ham acting or merciless teasing, food and more alcohol. Colquhoun recited chunks of Robert Burns by heart; MacBryde sang Scottish folk songs, or danced in a manner entirely his own
Robert Colquhoun died in 1962, victim of a heart attack while working late into the night on exhibition preparations.
[Text draws on The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde. Roger Bristow. 2010. Sansom and Company, Tate Gallery archives, 20th century British art and poetry by Richard Warren and other sources in the public domain.]